The Cycle of Domestic Violence
Note: If you are suffering from domestic violence, help is available. You can contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline by clicking this link or calling (800) 927 – 4673. If you live in Maryland, please follow this link to visit the Maryland Network Against Domestic Violence website and find help near you.
At the end of this blog, we also provide information about how to file for a protective order in MD, which you may find useful.
In 2018, 46 Maryland residents died as a result of intimate partner violence. Across the US, murders by intimate partners are on the rise. At the time of writing this blog, states across the US and countries around the world report that domestic violence calls are surging during the COVID-19 pandemic, because victims are isolated at home with their abusers. In Dallas, Texas, for example, family violence rose by 12.5% during the state's COVID-19 shelter-at-home orders.
Domestic violence is a significant issue here at home in Maryland and across the US at large. Understanding the cycle of domestic violence and how you can file for a protective order can help you break the cycle of violence and reclaim your life.
If you look up "cycle of domestic violence" online, you'll get a lot of different results that break down the cycle into several steps (often as few as three or as many as six, depending on where you look). For the purpose of this blog, we're using the Maryland Department of Law Enforcement's (MDLE) definition, which breaks the cycle of violence into three parts.
Before we begin describing the three phases, it's important to note that a relationship-building step often occurs before the cycle of violence begins. During this time, the abuser attempts to romance the victim and form a strong relationship with them. Once the abuser successfully builds a stable relationship with the victim, they begin executing the cycle of violence.
Stage One: The Tension-Building Phase
During the tension-building phase, the abuser starts to lose control of the relationship. Frequently, abusers establish control of the relationship through a variety of means, such as:
- Isolating the victim. Abusers often try to isolate their victims from family members, coworkers, and friends. They may arrange different holiday plans to prevent the victim from seeing family or slander the victim to their friends. The abuser's ultimate goal is to make themself the only source of support for the victim, so the victim feels as though they have nobody to turn to for support.
- Psychologically manipulating the victim. The abuser may engage in behavior such as gaslighting, where they psychologically manipulate the victim. The abuser may attempt to convince the victim that they aren't mentally stable and that only the presence of the abuser can fix their problems.
- Financially controlling the victim. The abuser may try and put their name on the victim's bank account or credit card, so they have control over their money.
Frequently in abusive relationships, once the abuser has isolated the victim and feels they have complete control over the relationship, they begin to spiral towards abuse. They may get irrationally angry over trivial matters or begin verbally abusing/threatening the victim. Over time, this behavior escalates until the next stage of the cycle.
Please be aware that, in Maryland, if your partner commits "an act that places you in fear of imminent serious bodily harm" (such as punching a wall near you or explicitly threatening you), or prevents you from leaving your home, you can file for a protective order. You do not have to wait until the situation escalates to physical violence to file for a protective order.
Stage Two: The Acute Battering Incident
At this stage, the abuser commits the act of violence they were building up to in stage one. Often, the first act of violence is not excessively damaging and may come in the form of a slap or choking.
As soon as an abusive partner commits any act of physical domestic violence, regardless of how remorseful they appear or how hurt the victim is, the victim should file for a protective order.
Unfortunately, violence in domestic abuse situations typically escalates. The first act of violence is often only the first step towards increasingly violent incidents that often result in severe injuries or even death.
After committing the act of violence, the next stage of the cycle typically begins.
Stage Three: The "Hearts and Flowers" or "Honeymoon" Phase
Immediately following the act of violence, many abusers try to save the relationship. They typically apologize to the victim, telling them the violent outburst was a mistake and will never happen again. They may begin behaving more like they did towards the beginning of the relationship, doting on the victim and trying to convince the victim that their behavior is changed for good.
In most cases, this is a lie. Once the honeymoon phase is complete, and the abuser believes the victim is fully under their control once again, the cycle starts to repeat.
If you are interested in reading more about the MDLE's approach to the cycle of domestic violence, including common behaviors, you can read their guide to domestic violence and domestic violence policies by clicking on this link.
How to File for a Protective Order in Maryland
According to Maryland Courts, any of the following behaviors are grounds to file for a protective order:
- An act that places a person in fear of imminent serious bodily harm
- An act that causes serious bodily harm
- Rape or sexual offense
- Attempted rape or sexual offense
- False imprisonment, such as interference with freedom, physically keeping you from leaving your home, or kidnapping you."
You are a person eligible for relief if you and the respondent:
- "Are current or former spouses
- Have lived together in an intimate relationship for at least 90 days during the past year
- Are related by blood, marriage, or adoption
- Are in a parent-child, or stepparent-stepchild relationship and have resided together for at least 90 days during the past year
- Are in a caretaker-vulnerable adult relationship
- Are the parents of a child together
- Have had a sexual relationship within one year before the filing of the petition,"
You should file for a protective order immediately. Fortunately, applying for a protective order in Maryland can be done in several ways by filling out a petition for protection from abuse.
If you are in an abusive relationship and suffer from an act of abuse, you should contact law enforcement professionals immediately. They can help you leave your house and file for a temporary protective order at your District Court or Circuit Court (during business hours), or with the Commissioner's Office of the District Court (open 24 hours a day)
Once you have contact with the county court, you need to complete a petition for a protective order. An interim or temporary protective order can force the alleged abuser to leave your shared place of residence and stop them from contacting you, protecting you until the court can oversee a hearing for a final protective order.
If a commissioner grants an interim protective order, that interim order will typically last until court reopens, at which time you will go in front of a judge for either a temporary protective order or a final protective order. If a judge grants a temporary protective order, it will typically last no more than a week. The final protective order typically lasts no more than one year except in rare circumstances. You may be able to apply for an extension of the final protective order.
In the hearing, both the victim and alleged abuser present their cases to the judge. Should you participate in such a hearing and receive a final protective order from a judge, the terms of the temporary protective order are often extended for a significant amount of time or, in very limited circumstances, permanently.
Filing for a protective order can also enable you to receive possessions you lost to the abuser, such as financial assets, property, pets, etc. The court can also award emergency family maintenance to assist in paying for your expenses. If you have children, a protective order can grant you custody with terms of access to the respondent. Additionally, if your children are the victims of child abuse, you can apply for a protective order on their behalf as well. You may also be able to apply for a protective order on behalf of a vulnerable adult.
At Matthew Penick Law, our lawyers have a wealth of experience helping clients navigate domestic violence. Contact our firm online or via phone at (410) 618-0863 to receive a consultation with our team.